Friday, March 8, 2013

Rice University Newsmakers

Superintendent of Schools Duncan Klussmann, Ed.D., and former Spring Branch ISD Board of Trustees President Susan Kellner joined several prominent Texas legislators and educational leaders in a one-day symposium on public education held recently at Rice University.

On Monday, Feb. 25, Dr. Klussmann and Susan Kellner, a vice president with Texans Advocating for Meaningful Student (TAMSA), won applause – if not all hearts and minds – from the knowledgeable listeners inside Rice’s Baker Hall. Spring Branch’s own experts on education shared frank views on issues ranging from local control of schools to high-stakes student testing and accountability.

The one-day symposium on public education was sponsored by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, Austin-based media organization that promotes civic engagement and debate on issues of importance that range from state government to education policy.

Increased student testing, high school graduation plans, and school finance were just a few topics explored at the daylong symposium. Superintendent Klussmann spoke during a morning session on “Choice and Charters.”

Session panelists included David Anthony, CEO of Raise Your Hand Texas; Caprice Young, education vice president at the Laura and John Arnold Foundation; and Rosemary Perlmutter, co-founder and CEO with Teaching Trust, founder of Uplift Education.

Last fall, SBISD through the SKY Partnership with KIPP Houston and YES Prep Public Schools opened first-year programs led by these successful public charter school groups at both Landrum and Northbrook middle schools. In several years, a charter high school program will begin at Northbrook High School, providing a feeder for many middle school charter graduates.

Highlights of Dr. Klussmann’s remarks included:

On choice in education: The Superintendent noted that one size does not fit all in education. Students all have different needs, and they need as many options in education as possible. • On competition and regulations: One of Dr. Klussmann’s concerns is that really innovative education leaders are not looking to Texas for ideas today. One reason may be state regulation, which ranges from the starting date for the new school year to local Board decisions on setting local tax rates. More competition is better.

On state education policy and the Legislature: When the Legislature makes a new decision on education policy, it takes two years to address it if changes or corrections are needed. School boards, and local superintendents, can react and make changes at the local level far quicker, in a few days for serious issues.

On Graduation Plans: Proposed changes to the current state Graduation Plan can give kids a chance to take rigorous courses in their area of interest and prepare every kid in the system for some level of higher education. Such changes should be encouraged.

Featured speakers during an early morning session were Texas Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock, R-Killen, the chairman of the House Public Education Committee, and state Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, chairman of the Senate Public Education Committee.

These two influential lawmakers have filed measures in Austin (Senate Bill 3 and House Bill 5) that could change graduation plans and redirect the state’s increasing emphasis on student testing before graduation, as seen in the current requirement for most public high school students to pass 15 separate, STAAR End-Of-Course (EOC) exams to graduate.

Monday’s meeting on public education at Rice made headlines when four of the state’s former education commissioners agreed that Texas needs less high-stakes testing in its public schools. State Rep. Aycock said that he favors reducing EOC tests from 15 to 5, too.

In addition, state Sen. Patrick told the Baker Hall audience that he plans to formally ask current Education Commissioner Michael Williams to put an immediate “hold” on several tests, including world history and geography, as required for graduation.

During an afternoon session on “Accountability and Testing,” Susan Kellner, the TAMSA vice president and former Board president, debated the proper amount of student testing with former U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings and others on her panel.

The former top education official agreed that 15 tests were too many, but she also questioned why some groups were opposed to more accountability, too. She was education adviser to former President George W. Bush, who made No Child Left Behind Act the law of the land for public school accountability during his time in office.

More than 80 percent of Texas school boards, including SBISD, have adopted resolutions during the past several years that criticize the state’s new STAAR/EOC exams as either flawed or dangerously excessive. TAMSA advocates for the use of national norm-referenced tests in grades 3 through 12 instead of more expensive, state-designed exams like STAAR.

If Texas continues to support STAAR/EOC testing, then TAMSA contends that no more than two or three EOC exams should be required.

“We are appalled at what is now happening in our schools and in our children’s classrooms, all in the name of accountability,” Kellner said. “It is driving curriculum, and it is driving teaching and learning that we are shocked at. We can’t believe that we’ve gotten this far.”

“Children between grades 3 and 8 are taking 17 tests, in addition to the 15 needed in order to graduate from high school. It’s out of control… It’s gone to the dark side and parents are finally stepping up and saying, ‘This is egregious. This is hurtful, and we’re not going to take it anymore.’”

The afternoon panel also included Texas Workforce Commissioner Tom Pauken and Robert DurĂ³n, a deputy commissioner at the Texas Education Agency.

To learn more, visit these sites:

The Texas Tribune
Texans Advocating for Meaningful Student Assessment (TAMSA)


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